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The journey from London to Nairobi to Loki to Narus. Crossing borders, fighting for whiskey and seeing how the world has changed. Continue reading
Disclaimer: this is likely to be another sentimental post so turn away now if you’re not if a soppy disposition!
I have been thinking in the last few days about my time here and in that reflection I have come to realise that nothing was as I expected. I’m not sure I knew what to expect but I remember before the trip being very nervous about the fact that I was making a pretty large step into the unknown on my own. A long term relationship which gad seemed so full of hope had ended in a pretty messy fashion and I think I focused on the fact that I was alone and about to embark on this trip without company.
It is no secret that I hate being alone. I look for company and I’m always surrounded by friends or family. I don’t like my own company and the very thought of spending an evening or weekend on my own depresses me completely.
I was so wrong about this trip. Since the very minute I stepped out of the airport in Nairobi, I have been among friends. John Marren collected me from the airport when I arrived and we very quickly became life long friends. He has been a marvellous support and the very dearest friend and I am so thankful that my trip started with his company.
Fr. Tim has been like a big brother to me, supporting me when I needed it and teasing me when that was required too. I have learned much from him. He cares for the people here so deeply and is so committed to education and to the futures of the young people. The people of Narus and indeed much further afield respect him greatly. He is calm and sincere and wise. He always seems to know what the right course of action is and is motivated by the needs of others always before his own. Most of all, I have learned that small kindnesses that seem trivial to us mean the world to other people. I’m really glad that I will have a few days in Nairobi with him. I think saying goodbye to him today too would just be too much!
And John Joe – what have I learned from him! Well, the art of turning reheated beans and rice into a Michelin star serving is not to be scoffed at. I tease Fr. John Joe all the time that he always sees the better in people. I tease him but I deeply respect him for it. He looks at the world through a different lens than me. When people do something I do not agree with or think is right, I get angry about it. I focus on the outcome of that action. Fr. John Joe has a unique way of seeing why a person might act the way they do. I get angry about the corruption that is rife here, he feels for the circumstances that drive people to behave that way.
So you see, with company as I have had, with the friends I have made not just among the Kiltegan priests but the people of Narus I have not once been alone. I have not felt lonely or isolated. On the contrary, I have been amongst the very best of friends and I will always be very thankful for that.
Maybe I should change the name of this blog to “Happy in South Sudan” or “The best version of myself in South Sudan”
Hujambo from Nairobi. I arrived here safely late on Tuesday night and since then have found myself in the most hospitable and enjoyable of company.
First a little about my flight because its something I really want to record for my own memory. The world we live in is really a magnificent place. We left London crossing Europe, we flew over the Alps, across the Mediterranean and then the Sahara. I have crossed the Atlantic by air more times than I can remember and I will admit to never having contemplated the sheer expanse of it. That sense of enormity, the sheer nothingness, the incomprehensible scale of it all….the Sahara really is immense, breathtaking in fact. It was dark by the time we flew over Sudan. I am in awe of this little planet we call home. The contrast between the plentiful life in some parts and then the barrenness of other parts.
Now…I know some of my friends and family know how obsessive I can be about packing. I firmly believe that almost any trip is possible on hand luggage if the proper planning is undertaken in advance! In fact, my goal for 2013 was to do Christmas at home in Ireland on hand luggage…of course that was before I planned this trip! Now obviously, there’s no way of spending two months in Africa without checking in luggage but I’m travelling light! One holdall and one backpack checked in; less than 30 kilos! I find this hugely satisfying and here’s a picture!!
Arriving in Nairobi was an experience! The circumstances surrounding the fire and the magnitude of the disaster is a great source of conversation and debate. There are rumours that the fire may have been started to destroy evidence of money laundering or the illegal issuance of citizenships. There is talk that there was no working fire engine available to attend the fire and when one eventually arrived two hours after the small fire was reported, the fire was out of hand and there was little water with which to quench it.
The satirists in Nairobi have had a turn with the debacle too – the cartoonist Gado contributed this to the Daily Nation!
The terminal is now a series of marquees and lots of covered seats like one would see at a wedding reception. The process of getting a visa for entry was uneventful but lengthy. It was about 2 hours from the time we touched down to when I walked out of the terminal to meet my hosts. I now have a three month visa for Kenya!
I found this in my purse when packing yesterday. I don’t know where it came from but I expect I found it once upon a time in my grandmothers things. I don’t know the context or which paper it appeared in. By the time my dad was 21 he had already served one tour of duty in Katanga Province in the Congo, had been involved in the Siege of Jadotville and spend a number of months as a hostage held by Katanga rebels. I think when this note was written, he would have been preparing for his second tour in the Congo.
I am thinking of him now and how different our journeys into Africa are. Aside from the purpose, I am aboard a very comfortable BA flight on what will be a journey of just over 8 hours. When Dad first went to the Congo, the journey was 13 hours with 120 or so other men in a military personnel carrier. I will have lunch served soon, he was given a plastic bag with a sandwich and some fruit for sustinence. He was wearing a bulls wool uniform, I have clothes suitable for the terrain which employ the latest technologies to keep me cool when I need to be cool and warm when I need to be warm. To combat malaria Dad took one quinine tablet each week. I have two months supply of very expensive and effective Malerone which taken daily will prevent my getting the dreaded disease.
As my dad loves to remind me “I don’t know how easy I have it!!”
The very fact that I am finally getting around writing this post on the flight to Nairobi might suggest just how busy and frenetic the last few days have been.
It’s has been just over two weeks since I committed my time to the Kiltegan Fathers and planning begun for this trip. I now realise that normal people would give themselves months to prepare….not me!! Is no fun unless there is some extreme hardcore planning and chaos involved. I mean where would the challenge be?!
Ticking things off my to-do list was hugely satisfying and kept me distracted. I’m not too proud to say that I came very close to losing my nerve. Reading conflicting reports about the stability of the region, the landmines left behind from recent conflicts, the challenge of crossing the border from Kenya to South Sudan, the increased risk of malaria now that it is rainy season, the devastating floods that the people of Juba have endured, the upcoming September 6th deadline imposed by Khartoum for South Sudan to cease support for rebels operating across the border with Sudan – the prospect of the path I have laid before me has at times seemed more than I am equipped to deal with.
And then, in those moments inevitably the universe came to the rescue. An encouraging email or text message would arrive from a friend or family member and I would be filled with courage once more.
I am under no illusion but that I am a very fortunate young lady. I seem to have been blessed with the gift of making friends – and very good friends, people who in turn are good at being friends. I held leaving drinks in London last week at a friends pub. A very informal affair on a glorious summers evening. I took a moment to look around and be very thankful. My friends came to send me away with their warmest wishes and prayers. The group of about 40 people ranged in age from 21 to 86. They were from every walk of life and all over the world. All gathered because they care about me and want to show their support. And it is that support and unfaltering support from my family that stopped me from wimping out!
In a particularly touching moment, I was summoned to the platform during mass at St. Paul’s on Sunday where Fr. Nick lead the congregation in a special prayer for me, for my ministry and safe return. I was so moved although somehow managed not to cry! I realise now that this trip isn’t just important to me, it’s important to others too and I must do everyone proud.
So here I am, 35,000 feet somewhere over the Sahara leaving London behind for two whole months. I’m packed and ready and I’m fairly sure I haven’t forgotten anything – malarial tablets, yellow fever certificate (now sporting my correct nationality!), a bag full of various other drugs which should save me from infections, food poisoning, my headaches and a myriad of other ailments. I’m fully expecting there to be a nationwide shortage of baby wipes considering how much I’ve packed!
But most importantly, I have today’s Irish Times, two bottles of very good Jameson, a truck load of chocolate and the Dublin v Kerry football match for Fr. Galvin. I’m really looking forward to meeting and getting to know him.
More from Nairobi!!
It has been gently pointed out to me that while I have written lots about my preparations for my trip and a little about how this trip came about, I haven’t actually explained what I will be doing in South Sudan.
The frank and honest answer is that I don’t really know yet.
As I think I mentioned before, I offered two months of my time to a mission in South Sudan led by Fr. Tim Galvin who is a Kiltegan Father. In our communications thus far, he has expressed the value of my trip in showing girls that there are options. There are other lives to be lead and that education is important.
I will arrive in Narrus at the end of the first week of September. From then until the children return to school on September 23rd I will do whatever is needed. I don’t know what that will be yet but I expect it will involve learning a lot about the customs and cultures of the Toposa people. From September 23rd until I leave I will teach at one of the schools in Narus.
Of course, being a compulsive planner, I have spent a great deal of time reading as much as I can about the Toposa. They are a farming people who have a very structured social make up. While most children are educated in primary school, relatively few women carry on to secondary level education. Girls have a “value” in terms of their dowry and young girls are often promised to men much older than them. I read in one of the many blogs that I have studied that many Toposa still think that “education is a contamination of women”. This phrase really struck me and made me terribly sad. Each and every girl should have access to an education regardless of what the future holds for them.
I feel that this is particularly important for a country that is just two years old. If South Sudan is going to see the success that the rest of the world hopes for it, it must harness that young energy regardless of the gender of the body that holds it. Almost 75% of the countries population is under the age of 30. Just imagine what the future could hold in store for South Sudan.
So, the answer is that I’m not entirely sure what each day will hold for me but I will do as I’m directed and try to learn as much as I possibly can.
Well…its just one week to go now and preparations are in full swing. Flights are booked and I leave for Nairobi on Tuesday September 3rd. Its beginning to sink in just what a mouthful I’ve bitten off here and I really hope that I’ll do this adventure justice.
I’m really happy that I will be escorted from Nairobi to Narus. Frankly, this is a huge weight off my mind.
Jabs and bites
So I had all my shots last week. Ironically, just hours after, I was bitten horribly by something vicious and nasty while I slept. I think it was a mosquito but I’m not sure. Either way, on top of feeling rather rubbish on Tuesday because of the shots, I had three awful bites which had swollen like something out of a horror movie. I can only imagine that the mosquitoes in South Sudan are eagerly awaiting my arrival. I slept with my hand in a wine cooler on Tuesday night and went straight back to the doctor on Wednesday morning. The poor man was horrified and prescribed super strength anti-histimines and hydrocortisone. My hands and arms are back to the size they’re supposed to be now and theres just a little staining to remind me of the mosquitoes feast!
I will admit to being very proud of my packing prowess. I can achieve almost any trip on hand luggage – my personal best being 5 days in the US and then straight to my sisters wedding on hand luggage. However, this time I’m having to bite the bullet and actually check luggage! Frankly, clothes are the least of my worries although I’ve packed very sensibly. Light clothes and lots of layers. It will be hot and humid in Narus and its rainy season now so I have to account for that too.
The most important thing I will pack is my medical kit – here are some highlights!
I will need a Visa to enter Kenya but also to enter South Sudan. I have called both embassies and I am assured that visa’s will be issued at the border and that nothing is required in advance. Normally visa’s cost about $100 but I need to factor in extra for any bribes I might need to pay. On my to-do list is to take plenty of passport photos and photocopies of all my documentation.